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Should Richardson be lowered in ranks?

8/9/2012

It's a bit too convenient to presume Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson is simply no longer worthy of a top-30 selection in fantasy football drafts because he has a pending arthroscopic knee surgery this week. Look at the other running backs going in the third round, from Adrian Peterson to Jamaal Charles to "picture of durability" Darren McFadden, and there are issues everywhere. Why should Richardson be excluded from the club?

Wednesday's news about our top-ranked rookie running back shouldn't upend anyone's draft rankings, or cause those who have invested in Richardson, especially in dynasty formats, to panic. Frankly, I expect most running backs to miss games anyway, and, as of now, Richardson and the Browns seem, at least publicly, mighty confident that he'll be available for Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Perhaps that's wishful thinking, but if I'm drafting Peterson or Charles, for example, I'm not expecting a huge early workload anyway. Richardson is a rookie, likely to see his touches increase as the season goes on. These are investments for three and, hopefully, if you reach the fantasy playoffs, four months, so this doesn't feel like a big deal to me.

Richardson brought questions about his knee into this season in the first place, one of several reasons I thought exalting him to top-10 running back status seemed a bit premature. That upside is there, and remains so. I rank him 15th at running back, and I'm sticking to it for now. The Alabama product suffered a torn meniscus in the same left knee back in the BCS Championship Game and needed surgery in February. Doctors claim this situation is not related, and, because I'm not a doctor, I must trust them. Do we all have "hang nail" particles of loose cartilage in our knees? I don't think I want to know.

The Browns had better hope Richardson can play four weeks from now because I don't think anyone wants to rely on Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson or Chris Ogbonnaya for production. A healthy Richardson has little competition, which is one of the reasons fantasy owners like him so much. Look around the league and there aren't many situations like this, as shared running back situations are all the rage. Dynasty league owners should try to acquire Richardson on the cheap, if that's possible. This really is a minor knee surgery, a blip for a Browns organization dealing with other issues.

I was asked Wednesday night about potential Richardson handcuffs, and I kind of laughed. It's probably Hardesty, but he certainly hasn't shown much in his 10-game career. Then I'm reminded of the other reason I've been perhaps a bit more cautious on Richardson than most (though my rank jibes with that of ESPN Fantasy): The rest of the Browns' offense is a bit underwhelming, with a rookie quarterback (Brandon Weeden) and little (well, Greg Little) at wide receiver. Maurice Jones-Drew made a challenging situation like this work in Jacksonville last year, but asking Richardson to do that is awfully optimistic.

Maybe Richardson will miss a game in September. Maybe he'll miss one or two in future months. Maybe this isn't the end of his knee woes. Be prepared for this, frankly. The general running back situation in the NFL is far from ideal for fantasy owners. Arian Foster missed a few games last season, and nobody's complaining about him today. LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Mathews and Steven Jackson all missed games last year, for various reasons. It's problematic regardless whether Richardson plays all 16 games his rookie season, but I have a tough time dropping him in my rankings when question marks surround pretty much all the other running backs in the third and fourth rounds. Yes, put a little red flag next to his name on draft day, but he certainly has company.